Remembering Billy Graham: Some facts about the life of the US preacher

Evangelist Billy Graham preaching the Gospel at Bercy's Stadium in Paris on Sept 20, 1986.
Evangelist Billy Graham preaching the Gospel at Bercy's Stadium in Paris on Sept 20, 1986.PHOTO: REUTERS

NORTH CAROLINA (REUTERS) - In more than 70 years, Billy Graham, who died on Wednesday (Feb 21) at the age of 99, preached to nearly 215 million people around the world.

"He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era," said William Martin, author of "A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story."

Here are some facts about him:

Grew up in North Carolina

Graham grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a Presbyterian with dreams of playing professional baseball.

His conversion to the Southern Baptist faith came in 1934 at the age of 16 when he heard a travelling evangelist in his hometown. A few years later he decided to become a preacher.

Conservative Christianity

Graham did not consider himself a strict interpreter of the Bible and preached a conservative, but not fundamentalist, Christianity.

His breakthrough as an evangelist came in 1949 when a three-week tent campaign, or "crusade", in Los Angeles was extended to eight weeks.

In 1957 he preached nightly for 16 weeks in New York's Madison Square Garden, according to the Graham organisation.

 

Nixon episode

In 2002 Graham apologised after the release of secretly recorded tapes from 1972 in which he and President Richard Nixon agreed that liberal Jews dominated the US news media.

Graham was heard saying the Jewish "stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain".

Adviser to presidents

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, said she first saw Graham preach in 1971 at a crusade in California that she attended at the invitation of then-boyfriend Bill Clinton. She said Graham later counselled her when she was first lady and dealing with her husband's sex scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998.

In 1950 Harry Truman became the first president to pray with Graham in the White House. Truman was upset the next day when he saw a photo in which Graham had posed kneeling in prayer on the White House lawn and read that Graham had discussed their conversation with reporters.

Modesto Manifesto

In order to avoid rumours of sexual or financial misconduct, Graham and his lieutenants agreed to what was known as the Modesto Manifesto in 1948.

Meeting in a hotel in Modesto, California, they pledged to never be alone in a room with a woman other than their wives, and to keep honest financial records.

Premonition about JFK

Graham had a premonition about President John Kennedy's trip to Dallas on Nov 22, 1963.

In his autobiography, "Just as I Am," he wrote that in mid-November he began to feel "such a burden" about the trip that he tried to warn Kennedy through a third party and tell him "Don't go to Texas!"

Graham said he was playing golf when he was told that Kennedy had been shot.

Most admired person

Graham was listed on Gallup's annual US poll of most admired people 61 times, including in 2017, more than any other world figure.

The person with the second most appearances on the list, which began in 1946, was Ronald Reagan with 31.

Rock star

The 1969 Miami Rock Music Festival featured the Grateful Dead, Santana, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter, Vanilla Fudge and, incongruously enough, Billy Graham.

He said he wore a disguise one night so he could mingle and get a feel for the crowd, which he later said was characterised by "spiritual searching and emptiness."

The next morning he preached to the crowd, pointing out that Jesus was a non-conformist who could "fill their souls."

Hollywood star

It seemed an unlikely honour when Graham was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989 but the chairman of the selection committee said: "I can't think of anybody in the world who has used radio, television and motion pictures in a more positive way."